If your teenage son or daughter has just started driving lessons, or is eagerly awaiting the day they can do so, it probably won’t be long before you find yourself having to navigate the world of “learner driver insurance”.
There are lots of companies offering insurance designed for learners, from household names to smaller specialists – but spool back a decade or so, and this type of cover virtually didn’t exist.
And the cost can vary hugely: a quick Guardian Money price test of a few of the leading providers found that a month’s cover for a 17-year-old living in north-east London could cost anything from £71 to £126.
So what exactly is learner driver insurance, how does it work and what should you buy?
If you are taking lessons with a driving school, insurance will almost certainly be included in the price you are paying.
But if you want some extra hours of supervised practice to help improve your chances of passing your test, using mum or dad’s car (or that of a relative or friend), then you will need to obtain insurance.
According to the RAC, the average learner requires 20 hours of additional practice outside of their driving lessons.
The traditional solution was that a parent would simply add their son or daughter to their own policy. While that may still be viable for some people, adding a provisional licence holder to a main motor insurance policy can be costly – and some insurers don’t allow it.
Learner insurance is designed to sit alongside the existing insurance on the car that the young person will be practising in. Typically, it provides fully comprehensive cover when the learner driver is behind the wheel and also during their driving test if they intend to use the same car.
Crucially, for the main policyholder, this means that if the learner prangs the vehicle, a claim would be made on this policy – leaving the car owner’s main policy untarnished and any no claims bonus protected. There are now thought to be dozens of companies offering this cover. Learner driver insurance can often be bought by the day, the week or the month, and, in some cases, even by the hour.
One of the latest firms to move into this sector is miDrive, which has rolled out a new type of pay-as-you-go insurance called Anytime, where the minimum price for just one hour is £12.70 and the minimum for a month is £90.95.
But one of the issues with this type of cover is that – as Guardian Money discovered when we went shopping for quotes – it doesn’t lend itself to price comparison sites.
If you are looking for a policy, the best bet is to log on to several providers’ sites, fill in some details and get a quote, or ring round a few of the companies.
Your best bet is to log on to several providers’; sites, fill in some details and get a quote, or ring them up
With some, you can get an indicative quote in a matter of seconds – you simply key in a couple of basic details such as the learner driver’s postcode, age and perhaps the car registration number. Others ask for lots of information before they will give you a quote.
This type of short-term insurance “doesn’t fit into their model” because it’s not an annual policy, says Crispin Moger, chief executive of Marmalade, which claims to be the biggest in the market specialising in young drivers. It started offering learner cover in 2009. He says Marmalade is not on any price comparison sites when it comes to learner insurance, and that he is not aware of any other big providers that are either.
Another major player in this sector is Admiral. Several other household names are involved too, but some of them introduce customers to other firms. For example, the AA introduces people to Collingwood Insurance Services, while Aviva’s cover is administered by a temporary insurance specialist called Dayinsure. Other firms in this market include the RAC, Acorn Insurance, InsureLearnerDriver and Covered on Demand.
If your offspring has just started driving lessons, or will shortly, it is worth being aware that they can only book their driving test when they have passed their theory test.
Someone can take the theory test from their 17th birthday onwards. It is worth knowing this because, as a parent, until you have a date for your child’s test, you may feel it is difficult to know how much learner insurance to buy – ie, for how many weeks or months – bearing in mind that you don’t want to get too little and then find it has run out before the test, or waste money on purchasing too much.
However, many of the policies are flexible. For example, Marmalade offers cover for 30, 60 or 90 days, but once that ends, the policyholder can renew for a further 6 or 14 days.
Aviva offers cover lasting from one day to 5 months, while Admiral’s ranges from 2 hours to 90 days.
Meanwhile, Covered on Demand reckons its policies could work out cheaper than some rivals, because you don’t pay for the days you are not driving.
The crucial thing with this type of insurance is that the learner must be accompanied at all times by a fully licensed driver. Each firm will have its own requirements: with Admiral, for example, this person has to be at least 21, while with Marmalade they have to be over 25.
Also, many companies will impose a curfew – typically, this means the learner isn’t insured between 10pm and 6am. And many will have a maximum value on the vehicle that can be used – often £30,000, but sometimes lower. There is also usually an excess on the policy – £250 is typical.
Meanwhile, it is vital to know that this type of cover ceases the moment the learner passes their test. That means they might need someone to drive them home.
So what happened in our price test? We sought quotes from several companies for a 17-year-old living in Walthamstow, north-east London, who intends to drive her parents’ car, a 3-year-old Nissan Note.
For a month’s cover, looking purely at price, Admiral appeared to work out the cheapest, with a quote of £71.32. 2 months was £115.94 and 3 months was £151.60. Marmalade’s site was particularly easy to use, and it quoted £85.88 for 30 days, £151.14 for 60 days and £205.01 for 90 days.
Aviva quoted £126.98 for one month, £211 for 2 months and £280.70 for 3.
With Covered on Demand, we opted for 28 insured “driving days”, which our 17-year-old would then have 90 days to use. The premium for this was £79.52.
However, there were many more companies that we could have tried and a variety of options in terms of how long you can buy cover for, so the best thing is to sit down and give several of the websites a spin, or call up a few of the specialist firms.